I went to the Cambridge Book Fair today, run by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association. I wasn’t expecting to find anything I really wanted to buy. I’m a fan of books, I like looking at and being amused by old books, I’m impressed by fancy, rare or unusual ones, but at the end of the day I go home and read a paperback or an ebook on my Kindle without a sigh.
But today, my hypothetical shopping list would have set me back at least £3,500. The first book which tempted me was a history of Newnham College, published in 1921 and priced at only £25, and I took the man’s card because that is not so much money that I couldn’t possibly envisage myself buying it. I’ll think about it – it’s not likely to be high-demand, I can wait a couple of weeks before deciding.
Then I found a first edition, Hogarth Press version of The Years. I have a £2.99 paperback copy sitting on my table right now, but the lure of the beautiful, rare, historical book was strong. Not quite £1,500 strong, sadly. But I have to confess that I was very, very close to deciding that I don’t need to eat for the next two years. (I have since looked on the bookseller’s website and discovered they have another copy, identical apart from the fact that it is signed by the author… and therefore costs a cool £25,000. Gulp.)
And then I found a copy of Million Dollar Month by Sylvia Plath. Only 155 copies were ever printed, five of which were special advance copies. And this was one of the five. Oh, my goodness, I wanted to buy it. I still want to buy it. It would set me back a further £1,250. Perhaps if I bought the two together (they were both being sold by the same bookseller), I might get a discount, but it’s unlikely to be a £2,700 discount which would be what I needed to afford them!
And then I found another book for £350, and one for £40, and one for… you get the picture. Some of them were just particularly nice versions of books I could get for 5% of the price elsewhere. Some, like the Plath, the Woolf and the history of the college, are unlikely to ever enter my life again.
I do have the beginnings of two small book collections. One is a collection of collectors’ editions of children’s classics: Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows and a couple of other favourites. The other is the one my wishlist from today would have joined; the books are all loosely based around Newnham’s alumnae authors and their associates. I’m sure they will both expand over the years, but I did wish that I could justify expediting that expansion today.